Public Value for Publics not Policy Makers
I finished 2010 by setting out the basis of my critique of the approaches to public value demonstrated by the mainstream discussion reflected in the approach to public value developed in the NIACE “Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning” (IFLL) which grew out of Moore‘s work in the USA, was refined by the UK Cabinet Office(pdf) and other writers in a range of different contexts, including Further Education(pdf) and the BBC, most notably the IFLL. I have argued that fundamental flaws in the arguments put forward in the literature I have reviewed are that;
- Public value is seen, on the one hand as being a measure of consumer satisfaction with public services and reflects a view of public perception as essentially passive, and in some cases, manipulable;
- The measure of public value is set in relation to the salaries paid to senior public officials in the original work or in other “cash” values such as the potential savings created by the beneficial impact of adult education on offenders.
- These are proxy measures and poor ways of measuring either the impact of public services or the consequent value placed on them in private or public settings such as families, neighbourhoods, communities or wider society, let alone by individuals;
- That there is a need to examine the way in which public services operate to both meet the political and policy imperatives of incumbent governments at local and national levels and the resultant disempowerment of publics in the formulation and operation of policy;
- We need to identify, in the context of education, how learners and the wider public can become the source of the criteria used to assess public value. For me, this means that learners and others with a need to engage with institutions start to be seen as participants rather than passive recipients of service provision. So we need to envisage and develop models that move beyond those that are dependent on the existing processes that fail to promote active engagement in the formulation, evaluation and validation of public services;
- For disadvantaged and marginalised groups who are the subjects of public services and rarely engaged with as citizens or publics, the formulations of public value I have discussed until now are unlikely to have any relevance as these same groups have little or no political influence or economic power.
- Readers of previous posts will know how critical I have been of approaches to public value that encourage leaders of provider institutions to manipulate their “publics” perceptions to maximise the satisfaction ratings in the context of public audit activities such as inspection and, as a consequence, see public value as a managerial issue rather than one of participation and engagement. Far too often, public value of services for the marginalised is seen as a cost offsetting exercise and this becomes the criterion that defines public value.
In what follows, I will explore each of these points in turn setting out what I see as alternatives in both the formulation of the term public value and how, from these alternatives, other ways of assessing public value and developing public policy can emerge.
Before I move on to the detailed discussion of these points I would like to follow Fine (2010) p126 by setting out what I think is wrong with some of the current uses of “public value”. I believe that “public value” needs to be reclaimed from those holding the positions I have criticised and reasserted afresh in terms of an agenda of public participation and engagement rather than the current agenda of economics, audit, managerialism and disembodied political and policy-making processes.
Issues with “Public Value”
As I have tried to argue in the preceding work on public value;
- The description and development of the concept is imprecise and contradictory in relation to definition, identification and the methods and theory used to develop measures and descriptions of the phenomenon;
- It is used as a catch-all for generating responses to contradictory and fluctuating policy environments, particularly those promoted by the later years of Labour Government from 2005 to 2010 and, subsequently by the coalition government, in the UK and by changing national and state governance in the USA. (Other examples can be provided, but I see the USA and UK as most affected by these “fashionable” i.e. ephemeral and mutable uses of the term.)
- The use of the term in the IFLL and related work seeks to narrow the meanings and the wider cultural, philosophical and political uses of the terms public and value and as a consequence, narrows the agenda of discourse around the public value of adult and community education. This is illustrated in the transition from the 2008 NIACE book to the limited discussions in the IFLL;
- Its use in IFLL and its development by some of the authors reviewed is compromised by its accommodation to very limited managerialist and economistic approaches to considering different contexts and has nothing to say about issues that might affect publics such as economic advantage and disadvantage, political power in policy formation and development, gender, race, culture, class, globalisation and learning as opposed to training and skills acquisition;
- Has no rigorous theory or research programme to establish the basis of the policy recommendations using the concept as a justification or rationale;
- Has not produced a critical or reflexive literature to examine the claims made for the use made of the term “public value”;
- It is used as a second order concept to support and endorse policy proposals and implementation that are dubious in terms of both their internal rationales and critical scrutiny;
- The concept has been used to endorse a cursory scrutiny of public services based on their economic costs rather than any effects of their activities on publics;
- It has been used, in the case of the IFLL materials, to legitimise an accommodation to policies that are inimical to existing theories and evidence drawn from adult education and learning. These approaches, described and explored in depth by Infed, show the efficacy of adult education for individuals, their families and communities in terms of activities and development rather than limited analyses of costs;
- It turns away from confronting policy as contingent and open to critique and change, accepting both the policy and supporting analyses as unchangeable givens.
Public Value 2011
This set of analytical points has emerged from our developing analysis during 2010 as discussed on this blog. In 2011 we look to deepen and develop this work in terms of three concepts.
a) A description and rationale for networked Public Value,
b) A participatory model of public evaluation and assessment of public services,
c) A pattern language to simplify adoption of these ideas practically.
In the next post I will explore in detail the key issues outlined here and prepare the way for the proposals we have developed for discussion throughout 2011.
If you liked this post you might like CuriousCatherine’s blog post on Agile Policy; ‘The Plan is Not the Objective‘